Democrats: Trump attacks on Whitmer helped pave way to US Capitol riot

Former President Donald Trump’s praise for angry protests against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in Lansing and his refusal to outright condemn an alleged plot to kidnap her paved the way to him inciting his supporters to attack the U.S. Capitol last month, Democrats charged during his impeachment trial on Thursday.

“The siege of the Michigan Statehouse (on April 30) was effectively a staged dress rehearsal. … It was a preview of the coming insurrection,” said U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., the lead House manager for the impeachment charges brought against Trump.

During a powerful recitation of Trump’s verbal attacks against Whitmer as she imposed strict measures to try to stop the spread of coronavirus — as well as his downplaying the risks she may have faced from the alleged kidnapping plot last fall as “maybe … not” a problem — Raskin told U.S. senators hearing the charge that Trump learned he could egg on his supporters to commit violence on his behalf.

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“Trump knew exactly what he was doing in inciting the Jan.  6 mob. … He had just seen how easily his words and actions inspired violence in Michigan,” Raskin said.

Trump, who left office on Jan. 20 with President Joe Biden’s inauguration, is facing a charge of inciting the riot at the Capitol by supporters trying to stop Congress from certifying the Electoral College vote from the Nov. 3 election. While Trump has insisted he did no such thing, for months after the election he pressed baseless claims that the voting had been corrupt or fraudulent in Michigan, Georgia, Arizona and Pennsylvania. Before the attack, he had urged supporters to “fight like hell” to stop the certification.

At least five people died in the attack as U.S. Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police fought back the mob while members of Congress were quickly evacuated. Protesters were shown in videos beating police officers with poles and hockey sticks, vandalizing the Capitol and calling to “Hang Mike Pence,” Trump’s vice president, who as titular head of the Senate oversaw the finalization of the vote count for Biden.Your stories live here.

On Thursday, it was announced that a third Michigander had been arrested in connection with the attack.

With Trump out of office, the most the Senate could do would be to find him guilty and prohibit him from running for office in the future. That’s unlikely to happen, however, given that 17 Republican senators would have to join 50 Democrats in the Senate to convict him first. The impeachment trial — Trump’s second — is expected to stretch into the weekend but is still expected to be concluded quickly.

Some Republicans have argued that the trial is unconstitutional because Trump is no longer in office, even though the Senate in the past has held impeachment trials for other federal officials after they had gone.

Raskin, a constitutional lawyer, began his presentation on the third day of the impeachment trial by arguing that even before Trump became president, he should a “continuing pattern and practice of inciting violence” by encouraging supporters to attack protesters at his campaign rallies. He went on to say Trump’s comments as president — such as his saying there were “good people on both sides” of the violent conflicts in 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, between white supremacists and protesters calling for the removal of a Confederate statue — continued the trend.

Trump’s most violent supporters, however, were especially emboldened by his seeming praise following protests in Lansing last April, Raskin said. After a large protest at the state Capitol on April 15 against Whitmer’s stay-home orders and edicts to shut down businesses to prevent the spread of the virus, Trump, on April 17, sent out a late-night post on Twitter saying simply,

Less than two weeks later, on April 30, a larger group of demonstrators descended on Lansing, with protesters — many of whom were not wearing masks and some carrying firearms — crowded into the Michigan Statehouse, demanding to be allowed onto the House floor and unnerving legislators. 

Some of those later charged with plotting to kidnap and potentially assassinate Whitmer were in the crowd. Raskin noted that most of the protesters in Lansing came dressed in tactical gear and “Make America Great Again” hats, as had the mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

“These tactics were road-tested,” Raskin said. “He (Trump) wanted to incite and invite their violence for his own political gains.” 

He noted Trump’s criticism of Whitmer even after federal and state law enforcement officials revealed the plot to kidnap her. Whitmer, in her comments at the time, said Trump was “complicit” by not denouncing white supremacists and hate groups. Trump went on to suggest that Whitmer should have thanked him since federal law enforcement was key in making arrests in the plot.

In a series of tweets, Trump said Whitmer had “done a terrible job.” A week later, at a campaign rally in Muskegon, Trump downplayed the threat against the governor, saying, “I guess they say she was threatened,” even as his crowd of supporters chanted, “Lock her up,” at the mention of the governor. Trump, laughing, responded, “Lock them all up.” At a later rally in Lansing, Trump made similar remarks, saying, “Maybe (the kidnapping plot) was a problem, maybe not,” Raskin recounted, adding that Trump at that rally suggested Whitmer couldn’t be counted on to make sure the election was fair.

That presaged Trump’s insistence that the outcome in Michigan — where he lost to Biden by more than 154,000 votes — was fraudulent due largely to corruption in Detroit. But there was no basis or proof for those claims and Trump actually did better in Detroit in 2020 than he did in 2016, while Biden did worse than Hillary Clinton did in the state’s largest city that year.

“Is there any chance Donald Trump was surprised by the actions of his own incitement?” asked Raskin. “He knew they (his supporters) would be ready to heed his call to stop the steal on Jan. 6. … He welcomed them with open arms.”

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This story was prepared by the staff at EUP News or contributed from an outside source.

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